ROAD TO THE WELL (2017)
An unconventional PhD dropout (Laurence Fuller) & his drifter best friend get tangled in a surreal web of murder & deceit in Road To The Well, a dark, quirky thriller following in the footsteps of Blood Simple & Very Bad Things. From award-winning screenwriter & first-time filmmaker John Cvack, this festival favorite – an Official Selection at the San Diego International & Lone Star Film Festivals, & winner of “Best of Fest” at the Long Beach Indie International Film Festival, arrives on DVD & leading digital platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox & Sony PlayStation on January 2017 from distributor Candy Factory Films.
"Sex. Intrigue. Laurence Fuller. All three things define Jon Cvack's indie hit Road To The Well... Fuller, a classically-trained actor whose performance in Paint It Red is greatly anticipated, delivers in this role depicting the quiet, brooding type with underlying anger issues that surface when life gets strange... Fuller’s theater background is evident in this gritty thriller with a uniquely built narrative that prioritizes characterization and the range of emotion found within its portrayal over break-neck pacing. His portrayal of Frank, a man whose life becomes upended as a series of unfortunate events transpires, is a standout among a cast of characters that are well-written in terms of script development and well-performed in all terms of delivery." - Kate Elizabeth Morgan, FestWorks
"Laurence Fuller plays a directionless young man having a very bad weekend in ROAD TO THE WELL a low-budget net-noir distinguished by strong characters and a skewed perspective... A sense of scope that's rare for a movie about betrayal and murder." - Noel Murray, LA Times
"This exquisite and delectable blend of Lynchian suspense and neo-noir murder is guaranteed to keep you hooked for nearly two hours and brooding over it for hours to come - the result is an immaculate gem waiting to be unearthed, now online” - Dirty Movies *****
"Frank, played brilliantly by Laurence Fuller. He was quiet & passive, working a mundane but demanding dead-end job after being passed over for a university PhD Internship. He tacitly acquiesces to his co-workers, & is later humiliated & cuckolded by both his girlfriend & his boss. Beneath his docile exterior, there is a smoldering anger & ruthlessness that only surfaces after a series of calamitous events" - Ruthless Reviews 9.5/10
How did this come about?
Laurence Fuller: I was sent the script by the casting director Billy DaMota who described it as: "Dark, style is very Coen Brothers."
Immediately I could tell it was something special, the script was dangerous, and suspenseful yet disturbingly hilarious in moments that you would not expect to find funny. Then I went in to meet the director Jon Cvack, we hit it off, he asked me to read a couple scenes which of course I obliged and a couple weeks later I found out I got the part.
Director Jon Cvack: "I knew Frank’s character was going to be a demanding role – especially in a low budget film. We needed to find an actor that could express a wide range of insights and emotions without saying a single word. It was very much like an iceberg effect, in which whatever he does or says is really only a fraction of what he’s experiencing internally. When Laurence came into the room it was like the movie Gods just blessed us. Laurence read the scene right after the initial murder with such explosiveness that I felt I was no longer seeing words I had written but the character of Frank coming to life. Still, it’s not easy to have someone audition without saying a word, as required for the film’s later sequences. It was after meeting with him, discussing the material, and witnessing him carefully deliberate over the ideas we were exploring that I knew that Laurence was going to kill the part. And he did." - Interview for Bears Fonte, AM-FM Magazine
How was it working with a first time director, Jon Cvack?
Laurence Fuller: Jon and I would meet up at his apartment and for coffee around LA and just talk about the script and the characters for about a month leading up to the shoot. We also discussed a lot of Existential philosophy and Jon gave me some books to read including Camus' The Stranger. I took it an my job to try and inhabit an existential experience. This was not a subject I'd looked into before, so it was a very unique challenge. Frank wrestles with the ambiguity of what to others may be a pretty definitive set of moral circumstances. Where "Right" and "Wrong" would seem to be clear.
Our relationship was rooted in the discovery and search for what an existential experience might feel like, look like, be like. It was abstract, symbolic, philosophical. We wrote each other emails about philosophy and art, shared our ideas which were never entirely defined because of the nature of the subject. Jon did not want to give too many definite interpretations about the meaning of a scene or the functioning of a character. So somewhere in ambiguity we found common ground.
Director Jon Cvack: "The old adage about great actor making directing all the easier is absolutely true. After extensive discussions about the material, the onset direction for him was simply asking for more or less in each particular scene. He came up with so many creative decisions that I never would have thought of, making the character become someone I never would have envisioned, and in the greatest way possible." - Interview for AM-FM Magazine
"What Laurence was able to accomplish in this role cannot be overstated. His ability to show internal struggle, hardship and full depth of character while saying very little was truly remarkable to watch." - Leah's Movie Lowdown *****
And what attracted you to this project?
Firstly I was totally pulled in by the myth of The Man, The Monster & The Well, and how Jon managed to apply that to a modern narrative, was fascinating. I asked Jon about it and he told me he discovered it in Tolstoy's My Confession, he sent me the essay, in which Tolstoy wrestles with his own demons as he digs for a meaning to his life and a purpose to his artistic and philosophical work, searching for his spirituality and all the while haunted by doubts. I sent the script to a friend of mine, the artist Marcelle Hanselaar who is also a buddhist, she said to me:
"The story originated from a Zen Ko-an from the Mumonkan, the Koan Collection. This is the Fifth Case of that collection. It's called "Hsiang-yen: Up a Tree". The priest Hsiang-yen said, "It is as though you were up in a tree, hanging from a branch with your teeth. Your hands and feet can't touch any branch. Someone appears beneath the tree and asked, 'What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?' If you do not answer, you evade your responsibility. If you do answer you lose your life. What do you do?"
It can be interpreted many different ways but it's essentially about the difference between what people say and what they do. What they choose to speak out loud or to keep hidden. If you watch closely none of the characters in this film are telling the truth about anything, but they all have their own reasons. The truth is always ambiguous, agenda is unavoidable. I thought it was interesting how far back the lineage of this fable went, and yet was for the most part laying dormant in Tolstoy's essay until Jon dug it up and formed a movie around it, I wonder how far the myth will travel.
Jon Cvack director: "I had studied philosophy in school and we had read one of Tolstoy's short essays "My Confession" in which he explores his loss of meaning and purpose in life and the way it impacted his worldview and religion. He compared his struggle to the story of a man getting chased by a monster, falling into a well, with a dragon deep below. The man catches hold of a twig, where a little mouse is nibbling at the base. With nowhere to turn and doomed to fall he sees some honey on one of the leafs of the twin and starts licking. Tolstoy explained this was what it was like to retain his religion in an age of reason. I had always thought it was a brilliant metaphor for any struggle, secular or religious, and perfectly encapsulated Frank's struggle. We are often drawn into situations beyond our control, and it's up to each of us to try and find whatever bit of honey there is, Combining this with your classic paranoid neighbor archetype felt like it could work pretty well." - Interview for Bears Fonte, AM-FM Magazine
"There are plenty of filmic comparisons worth making in John Cvack’s Road to the Well. Nods to Shallow Grave, tips of the hat for Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, as well as sly winks towards Soderbergh’s first feature Sex, Lies and Videotape. Atmospheric homage can be attributed to the former and latter, while that essence of cool so inherently associated with Fiction has much to do with Cvack’s structural precision." - Flickering Myth *****
In the film you have an American accent, but listening to you now your natural voice is very different.
Yes my natural accent is split between British and Australian. I spent twelve years in each country before moving to LA five years ago. I felt it was important to stay in the world for the duration. When I met with Jon I told him this would be the last time he would hear my natural voice until we finished shooting. Then when I met the other actors and crew I met them 'as Frank' I suppose is a way to say it. Most of the crew thought I was American until the last day of shooting when I started speaking in my own voice again. I did this because I don't know if you can ever really say that the character is a separate thing. It's ultimately always the actor in front of the camera, no matter what we're thinking about at the time we're being recorded.
In that way there is something mysterious and powerful about taking on the being of another person, bringing my authentic self to it. I feel that is something to be honored and the challenge demands my respect and discipline.
I wanted to do justice to playing an American as a transatlantic. There are things about American culture that are in this film that I really wanted to explore and get a deeper understanding of this vast new country I find myself in, they may not be apparent so directly but somehow it's woven into the whole world that's been created. We shot half this film in Tahoe and the other half around LA, and not the LA you see in Entourage, the LA you see in Nightcrawler or Pulp Fiction. The gritty underbelly of America, and I've worked in LA bars for long periods, so I know this world empirically too.
But my background in British theatre surprisingly helped me a lot to get into the skin of Frank. When I was 18 I moved back to England to train at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School which is one of the oldest Drama Schools in the world. My course was 'Classical Theatre' but while I was there I picked up the skills of physical and vocal transformation. Some of which I still use and certainly helped me with this part. After graduating it was the logical step that I went into Classical theatre for a while, this ultimately lead to getting cast in the period feature Apostle Peter & the Last Supper opposite Robert Loggia by the same casting director as this film Billy Damota.
Did you feel typecast early on as a Classical actor?
A bit, there are a lot of brilliant classical roles that I still would relish the opportunity to explore, and I love period films, at the same time I've never felt yoked as a person to one way of looking at things. Ours is a period of cultural interest as much as the Rennaissance, Victorian England, Ancient Rome, or the future. I'm also just as interested in the universal human truths which speak through the times, this higher common denominator can be more telling than appearances. This film poses the same questions that Hamlet asks about existence in a different time and place.
Jon and I discussed this a lot and my approach I suppose is somewhere in line with what is more generally called 'Method Acting', which originated in New York after Lee Strasberg began translating the Russian dramatist Stanislavsky's findings at the Moscow Arts Theatre, that's where the philosophy originated. I know that at the same time Jon and Micah were discussing the opposite approach in David Mamet's True & False, this was definitely an intentional move to fuel the rivalry between me (as Frank) and Micah (as Jack) on screen.
Essentially, and I believe unknowingly, Mamet's ideas in True & False are in line with the old British guard, who during my time in British theatre when I would pose questions about how to reach deeper levels emotionally and psychologically with my character, would retaliate "say your lines and don't bump into the furniture". I came to America to get away from that limiting point of view, leaving a burgeoning career in the West End after Madness In Valencia at Trafalgar Studios to pursue screen acting in American independent film. The decision was not easy, but I felt vindicated in doing this, when finding that Daniel Day-Lewis also turned his back on the British tradition after training at Bristol Old Vic and becoming disillusioned with the RSC, he came to America to make independent cinema inspired by films like Mean Streets, Goodfellas and On The Waterfront. An actor friend pointed out to me recently that his rebellious Irish heritage made this move inevitable, I thought the same was probably true of my Australian 'convict' heritage coming out.
Though I found the British tradition in acting particularly helpful when it came to honing the instrument, movement, vocal and physical skills, all necessary parts of the actors make up, I found it lacking in emotional depth. Upon arriving in the States I are across Ivana Chubbuck and Eric Morris, two practitioners whose work had a profound influence on my character development, Ivana for her psychological depth and Eric Morris for his exploration of sensuality in the present moment, his advanced sense memory work and of course his conception of "Being" adapted from Eastern philosophy. It's difficult to fully get into it all here, but if you follow my posts at the film festivals I try to get into it a bit further on my blog
“Road to the Well is not going to be for everyone, as Cvack is far more interested in establishing and maintaining a grinding sense of tension than lots of physical conflicts. In that regard, the film has a smartness to it that keeps it sharp…gorgeously photographed & well-acted, making this a solid debut.” - That Moment In
What was it like shooting in Tahoe?
It was like film camp, talk about creating a culture, away from our city environments all bunking up together out in the woods, it was easy to be authentic and feel at one with nature and each other, a very Spiritual experience.
I remember in the middle of the night at Grey Wolf Lodge, I stepped away from the cameras and the crew as they set up the next shot, I walked out into the darkness of the forest at night, coyotes howling. I looked up at the stars and just soaked it all up, then when we came to shoot the next scene it fed into the work, it was a brilliant experience.
"A buddy picture with a grim story, nuanced performances, and excellent technical qualities” - Cinemasmack
There's one shot in particular which is inspired by some of the art that you mention.
Yes, this was a lot of fun, in prep Jon and I had gotten on to a conversation about Neitszche, though mainly this one aspect of his philosophy which talks about man going out on his own and facing the abyss. There's a painting by Caspar David Friedrich called Wanderer Above The Sea Fog that's often associated with this idea. One morning at the end of a night shoot Tim Davis the cinematographer went for a walk and a drink around the area some of the crew and they stumbled upon this.
"He who fights monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster,,, when you gaze long into the abyss the abyss also gazes into you" - Friedrich Nietzsche
There's a lot of intense scenes in this. The one that sticks out for me is the scene where you find the dead body in the trunk. What was it like on set that day?
This was a week into our consecutive night shoots, so everybody was turning a little vampiric anyway. Then our location was this dodgy underpass of a freeway, which was perfect for the scene, Jon said facetiously at one point it's a "method location", when we showed up I'm pretty sure there was a drug deal going on in the corner, and a couple homeless tents were set up on the other side of the wall, one of the inhabitants would regularly get out to have a piss. Then about halfway through the scene where I'm in my underpants discovering a dead body in the trunk of my car, there was a potential biohazard spill round the corner from where we were shooting. The smell was overwhelming, a few people had to leave and camp out up the road, because they would have thrown up if they'd stayed around the stink. If I were to describe the smell I would say somewhere between a dead fish and a baby's diaper.
What was it like working with veteran Marshall Teague?
Having Marshall Teague on set and some of the towns we stopped by, like Colfax we were just dripping in Americana. But seriously having Marshall around made everything just felt a little more safe. He's a veteran in more ways than one, he's a war hero too. And he conducts himself with honor and the utmost respect for everyone around him, always the last to take his meal at craft services and if there were any safety issues on set he was the first to take charge and lead the group forward. A true gentleman. That carried over to his acting style as well, he has an intense discipline. The table scene that we shot was 10 pages and the way we had to shoot it was all the way through from start to finish, that night after we got all the coverage we had done the scene 30 times, Marshall was spot on every take.
"A possible lifetime achievement Oscar nomination for Marshall R. Teague as Dale" - It’s Just Movies
"Laurence Fuller and Micah Parker build a believable brotherly bond filled with foibles, flaws and long-term friendship pressures all present. In the sparingly employed dialogue and unspoken gestures are echoes of lines crossed, trust tested and unresolved issues simmering beneath the civil exchanges." - Flickering Myth *****
What was it like working with Vampire Diaries alum Micah Parker?
"The psychotic undertones, lack of empathy & almost playful gamesmanship echo moments from Funny Games... Parker & Fuller are compelling and despicably charming as buddy movie co-leads” Spl!ng ****
"Both Parker & Fuller do extremely good work" - Etc-Etera ****
Very professional, he knew his lines and showed up on time everyday. In many way the relationship between Jack and Frank was the most challenging aspect of shooting this film for me, because here we were cast in lead roles at the centre of what we all felt to be something special and yet it was our task to enact the most gut wrenching, Machiavellian-like rivalry between these two men competing for life and death. Jon knew how far in we were both getting with these parts and was definitely fanning the flames between us in reality too. I can't express how deep it went all on this page, but I do on the Road To The Festivals blogs below;
ROAD TO THE FESTIVALS
Line Producer: Hanna Walicki
Editor: Angela Latimer
Composer: Conor Jones
Costume Designer: Amanda Hosler
Art Director: Brittany White
Photos by: Elizabeth Gilmore and Tim Davis